Chanticleer is a vocal group that makes anyone who can’t sing green with envy.
On Thursday night, the 12 men who make up the group gave a concert at Proctors as part of a two-week U.S. tour.
The men sing a cappella, which means they don’t use any accompaniment. One of them hits a tuning fork to set the pitch, and away they go. The group covers all the bases, from countertenors to basses, with some of the men using falsetto when needed.
The sound is a seamless, mellow blend in which rhythms are precisely uttered, phrases are sculpted and finished with elegance, and taking a breath is unnoticeable. Every line was like a string of pearls. The songs were all exceptionally well prepared, even to the choreographing of how the singers grouped in a specific formation for each song.
They sang in several languages, including Latin, Italian, German, French, Russian, Spanish and English, and diction was terrific in each. The program began with the Renaissance up through to commissions made this year, which showed how writing for voices has changed over the centuries.
The huge crowd appreciated every offering, with many remarking at intermission that this type of singing is rarely heard. It helped that one or another singer would explain the lyrics of the song, which added to everyone’s pleasure.
They began with four Renaissance-era songs by Palestrina, Tomás de Victoria, Francisco Guerrero and a mystical “O frondens virga” by Hildegard von Bingen, the first documented female composer. Chanticleer was adept in all, but the von Bingen was exceptional for the purity of tone, control and atmosphere.
Two “sexually charged” 16th century songs by Andrea Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi were clever, followed with lovely songs by Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, Brahms, Ravel’s ironic “Trois Chansons” and an interesting Barber song, “Let down the Bars, O Death” to Emily Dickenson’s poem.
Stacy Garrop’s “Give me Hunger” (2013), based on a Carl Sandburg poem, was intensely effective, but Eric Whitacre’s “A Boy and a Girl” was dark and pensive. John Clements’ sweet “Flower of Beauty” contrasted with a robust Russian traditional folk song.
Chanticleer put down their music and launched into a quietly hip new work, “Chega de Saudade,” from Antonio Carlos Jobim. But an arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (1967) was oddly ruminative, and June Carter Cash’s “Ring of Fire” was almost a dirge. A few finger-snapping, uptempo numbers might have been better choices to end what was otherwise a first-rate show.